Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Brush Creek Lakes Run

The Brush Creek Trail is in the Sangre de Cristo Range, just south of Salida, CO. Like many trails on the east side of the range, it starts on and/or follows the Rainbow Trail.

So -- it's been noticed that I've been spending some time down here, and the reasons are simple. There's lots to see, I have some 14ers to work on here, and aside from that, there's trail after trail to check out. It's also a little less crowded compared to areas farther north. And there are good brew pubs. 'Nuf said.

I didn't realize until arriving at the trailhead that this was a burn area, and entire ridges were covered with black sticks that were once trees. However, the exposure to sun was temporary, and soon I had ascended into intact forest.

Ironic that these clouds were reminiscent of a smoke ring;

In spite of there being a fire a few years ago, life had begun to regenerate. Flowers, plants and small Gamble Oak trees filled in the landscape below the black charred tree trunks. So it was not exactly like running on the Moon.

Yet, for a good 2-3 miles, I was running among those charred tree trunks and on lunar gray dirt. And there were no human tracks on these trails -- absolutely none. Only deer had been using this trail for who knows how long, and the trail was overgrown and sometimes hard to follow. Aside from the usual text to my sister before leaving, nobody knew I was there, and nobody was going to come along and help me if I ran into trouble, short of search and rescue. So I ran even more carefully than usual. It was 9 miles up to the first lake, where I had my first human sighting.

On the upside, flowers were everywhere, in every color. And yellow Monarch butterflies were all over it, making sure everything got pollinated.

In addition to the burn, and the beetle kill, there were trees down the entire way. I mean, a catastrophic event must have hit this area and blown trees to the ground, because even the sketchy trail that was there, was covered with downed trees. There was some logging done to remove them in places, but there are still stretches of trail that looked like a bunch of Lincoln Logs were dropped from the sky.

But then there were the mountain creek sections. Yeah, trail-running bliss.

So at one point near the top, I heard loud crunching in the piles of timber. Oh crap. Bear. No, it turned out to be three guys headed up to camp for the weekend who had taken a wrong turn on the sketchy trail and ended up climbing over logs in a maze of fallen trees. I had dropped my camera but after I ran back up they were sitting on the trail relaxing, the first thing I noticed being the .45 in a thigh holster on guy number one. That may have explained the single shot I had heard earlier. They had camping packs and a fishing rod, and were headed up for the weekend. We talked for a moment, I got the beta on other trail choices, and then I ran up trail.

It was another mile and a half to the lake, and that was it for me. I figured the second lake was like the first only smaller, I had some shopping to do back in town, and I turned around and headed back down.

I had marked my mileage so that when I passed those guys again, I could tell them exactly how much longer they had to go to the lake's edge. They looked pretty beat. It was half a mile when I passed them.

This is where they were resting on the way up. Ha! Chaos:

I confirmed that a better way down the mountain might be found via a trail that led mysteriously over a sandy ridge into the woods. This turned out to be true, and it was called the [something] Mine Trail. The other half of the wooden sign was missing.

Also picked up the guy's .45 casing from the trail. You're welcome.

It was a totally heinous steep trail downhill, but I wanted to get down so I didn't mind. There were some trucks and a shack at the trailhead.

There was also a tentative SUV driving down the forest road, and I tagged along behind it for a while until the road became smooth and I couldn't keep up. Ah, well.

Distance was 15.33 miles, time 5:47 (moving 3:55), elevation gain/loss 3,591 feet, avg. pace 22:39 (moving 15:21), and best pace 7:13.

And I got a climbing helmet. It still sits on my head like a mushroom, but it's better than getting knocked out by falling rocks.

Dinner: the Caveman pie and IPA at Moonlight Pizza.


  1. "And I got a climbing helmet"
    Whoa, are you thinking Little Bear?

    Great pics and insight into lesser-used trails. Not sure why that guy didn't pick up his brass, gives responsible people a bad name.

  2. Mike - Good guess, but this time it was the Crestones. I've read about the potential hail of rocks on Little Bear.

    I've been in a couple of somewhat vertical zones before and thought a helmet would be good. The Trough on Longs, the climb up to Challenger Point, the top of Wetterhorn, etc. If you hear people yell "rock!" it may be time for a helmet.

    Lesser-used trails indeed. Afterwards I realized it was probably closed for a while after the fire plus there is easier trail access than what I used.

  3. Cool, Little Bear makes me nervous but intrigued (and wondering about the longer ridge route).
    By pure coincidence -- not sure if you read Rob E's blog, but Sat was the debut of my new helmet as well. The scale in the photo is skewed, but even considering my normal clumsiness and the fact that Nick is standing still, just know that those rocks were loose enough that I could have easily rolled any of those rocks right onto Nick with just a moderate push from my foot. Some of the other gullies we had to do one-at-a-time or just took alternate gullies.

  4. Mike - I couldn't browse to the blog link but I see the photo. That type of terrain is ugly.

  5. It's been many moons since I've been to Brush Creek Lakes. The section of the trail that runs next to the creek was the best part - nice job capturing it in the photo! It looks the hike is bit more challenging now with all of the downed trees. Starting at the Peerless Mine trailhead will trim about 5 miles round trip compared to starting at the main trailhead.

  6. Ron - No doubt, the creek section was great. As it turns out I took the Mine TH route on the way down; the ascent route was pretty rough due to the fallen trees and lack of use.

  7. Hey there guys, me and my buddy have been going to brush creek lakes for years. On our trip up there in July of 2012 we were disappointed to find out half way up the trail that it was impassable. It looked like a avalanche had come through there. Trees were stacked over each other and impossible to cross. At times the stacked wall of trees were over 12 feet tall. We came off the mountain and found a forest ranger who advised that early spring there was a Micro Burst that whipped out a ton of trails on the east slopes, with brunch creek lakes being one of them. Thank God it was too early in the year for hikers or they would have been in trouble. He said it happened during one night. So I hope that by now the forest service cleared the trail. It would be nice to get up there again sometime soon.

  8. Corey - That's about what I figured with the wind, it looked like a catastrophic event. It was wrecked and trees were down like matchsticks. Nice trail though.

  9. My buddy and I are talking about going back up there this year after a few years of missing the trail due to the trees. We are anxious to get back up there. Back in 2006 and 2007 both of our fathers passed away and this is where we spread each of their ashes. I can't wait to get back up to that beautiful trail and the Lakes.

  10. Corey - The trees were pretty crazy, but a beautiful place.